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House Republicans to Begin Work on Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act

Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee plan to introduce a series of bills this week as part of their efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, a sweeping piece of federal legislation that includes the entire student loan system.

On a call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., said the committee will mark up the bills quickly and that he expects floor votes on several of the proposals before the November elections.

The policies included in the forthcoming bills are outlined in an 11-page white paper the committee released Tuesday afternoon, and include some seriously heavy lifts, like consolidating all existing student loans into one loan, and all existing grants into one grant. The road map also proposes streamlining repayment plans into two options: a standard repayment plan, and some sort of income-contingent repayment plan, both of which paralyzed Congress for months last year in a partisan squabble over how to fix repayment plans once and for all.

Anticipating the difficulty updating such an enormous law, Kline said he plans to tackle the reauthorization in a piecemeal style, the way he has attempted to do for Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

"Instead of a large, comprehensive bill, we're going to move in a step-by-step process with a series of smaller bills," said Kline, adding that he hopes Senate Democrats, who have been preparing to overhaul the higher education law in a more comprehensive fashion, will consider his approach. "You can sit there with comprehensive bills and make no progress," Kline said.

Kline said he will introduce the bills with the most chance of garnering bipartisan and bicameral support first. Those include proposals on consumer information and financial literacy.

The white paper outlines several additional proposals, including a flexible version of the Pell Grant program to accommodate non-traditional college students that may not attend college full-time. The Pell Grant, a quasi-entitlement that covers a portion of tuition for low-income and middle-income students, is the largest program administered by the U.S. Department of Education. Its cost has increased by nearly 300 percent over the last eight years, rising from $12.8 billion in 2006 to $31.8 billion in 2014. Kline said that one of the forthcoming bills will put the program on more stable financial footing, though it's unclear how that will happen.

Another proposal would make it easier for students and their families to access useful information about college costs, something that's been a priority for the Obama administration, too. But the white paper bashes the administration's College Navigator tool, which shows college hopefuls average annual borrowing data, as well as the College Scorecard and the Shopping Sheet, which shows average debt of undergraduates, for inundating students and families with too much information.

The forthcoming bills also would require college counseling for high school students at an earlier age, reduce the amount of reporting requirements the federal government demands of colleges and universities, and ask colleges and universities to overhaul policies like credit hour policies to better accommodate non-traditional students.

For more details on the Republican plan, click here.

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